Manipuri home chef brings dishes from the northeastern state to Mumbai

Updated: 05 April, 2018 11:13 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Taste some delicious Manipuri dishes made by this home chef in Mumbai this Sunday

A Manipuri feast prepared by Singh
A Manipuri feast prepared by Singh

The genesis of Keisham Kunjakishor Singh's interest in cooking lies in an archaic Hindu tradition. "Women in our family aren't allowed to enter the cooking area when they are on their period.

So, my mother and sister taught me the basics when I was really young, maybe 13 or 14, so that I could take over when they had to stay away from the kitchen. And ever since then, I have been making dishes and calling my friends over for lunch or dinner," says the 35-year-old fashion designer who also moonlights as a home chef.

Singju
Singju

Singh is Manipuri. His childhood was spent in the northeastern state. So it follows that a pop-up he is hosting this weekend will feature dishes from his home, which he had picked up when the women in his family turned to him for help. He says that his foray into pop-ups started eight months ago and adds that meeting different people gives him a window into their mind, which in turn aids his creativity when it comes to fashion.

Baah gajor gahori
Baah gajor gahori

Now, the food that he will be whipping up is as uncommon in this city as a vada pav stall would be in Imphal. Manipuri cuisine does involve the use of spices. That's what sets it apart from Naga dishes, which almost entirely shun turmeric, cloves and the like. But unlike in the rest of India, further west from Assam, the list of spices used in one Manipuri dish doesn't read as long as, say, a list of items banned from your in-flight baggage. Instead, the flavouring relies mainly on indigenous herbs. Fermentation, too, plays an important role. But one popular item that won't feature on Singh's pop-up menu is akhoni, or fermented soya beans. "I'm not sure that people here will like the pungent aroma," he says.

Maroi bori thongba
Maroi bori thongba

But the menu is nonetheless rooted firmly in Manipuri traditions. Hence, you will find a dry mushroom dish, called iromba. "Very few vegetables grow throughout the year back home. Mushrooms, too, are kind of seasonal. But you get the dry ones all year round. That's why they are an important part of our cuisine," Singh reveals.

Nga ataoba thongba
Nga ataoba thongba

Then there is singju, a salad made from lotus roots, which also doubles up as a chutney if need be. This dish, in fact, is an apt representation of how seasonal Manipuri cuisine is — the only reason that he has included it in the menu, Singh tells us, is that lotus roots are growing in abundance at the moment.

Kunjakishor Singh
Kunjakishor Singh

But the one dish that has us most excited is pork with bamboo shoots because, well, the mere mention of pork makes us salivate like a greedy pig (excuse the irony). This Manipuri staple might have a simple recipe, bhut jolokia being the key ingredient. But the bamboo shoots give it such a delectably light flavour that your taste buds tingle with appreciation. Plus, Singh tells us that he has a special utensil to cook it in. "The frying pan I use is from my hometown. It is made of thick iron, which makes it perfect for slow-cooking, especially when it's meat," he says, making us think of how in a fast-paced city like Mumbai, where time is of the essence, a slow-cooked pork dish makes for a welcome change from the curries one usually finds in restaurants, which reach your table in a matter of minutes.

ON: April 8, 1 pm to 4 pm
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First Published: 05 April, 2018 08:10 IST

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